One of the largest and most spectacular additions to a state park in the past decade was completed last week with the acquisition of a 454-acre parcel that includes towering limestone cliffs, two miles of trout streams and a variety of rare habitats at Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park, about 45 minutes southeast of Rochester.
The addition to the 2,973-acre park is the culmination of five years of collaboration among the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and a local family that has owned the land since 1947. The land, which has been identified by the Minnesota County Biological Survey as an area of outstanding biodiversity, is home to a number of rare and threatened species, including timber rattlesnakes, milk snakes, cerulean warblers and loggerhead shrikes.
“This is a spectacular addition to what’s already one of our most beautiful state parks,” said DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr. “It preserves high-quality habitat and protects a unique landscape that will provide public opportunities to hike, fish or just enjoy some of southeast Minnesota’s breathtaking scenery.”
Located in Minnesota’s karst region, an area of fractured limestone bedrock that is rich in geological oddities such as sinkholes, seeps and springs, the property features segments of two trout streams: Forestville Creek and the South Branch of the Root River. It also includes a variety of habitats, including white pine forest, seepage meadow and oak forest.
“Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park has long been one of Minnesota’s natural treasures, but the land beside it was perhaps even more beautiful and impressive,” said Peggy Ladner, director of the Minnesota chapter of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization that played a pivotal role in the acquisition.
“It’s incredibly rich, with so many different types of habitat and native plants and wildlife,” Ladner said. “That this land is now protected and available for all Minnesotans to enjoy is a testament to how landowners can work with groups like The Nature Conservancy and the state to conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends.”
The Nature Conservancy started exploring opportunities for preserving the property with the family that owned the land five years ago. The organization paid for an appraisal of the property and facilitated ongoing discussions between DNR and the landowner.
Joe Vreeman Sr., who raised five children on the land with his wife Roene, started acquiring the property in 1947 after returning from World War II.
With both parents having passed on, the family decided the best way to preserve it for their children and grandchildren was to sell it to the state, said Joe Dean Vreeman, one of the siblings who approved the transaction.
“It was a hard decision for the family to sell,” he said. “But we’re all very pleased it will be taken care of and preserved.”
Vreeman, who now lives in California, has fond memories of losing himself in the woods as a child for hours at a time, an opportunity that now will be available to all.
“The experience of seeing nature and wildlife and the hills and the bluffs is very spiritual,” he said. “You realize how small you and your problems are. It’s very inspiring to get that perspective.”
Funding for the $1,754,500.00 acquisition was provided by the Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) program, which uses money from the sale of critical habitat license plates to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat.
NOTE TO MEDIA: Images and video b-roll available at
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Senior media relations manager